Skip to main content

tv   After Words  CSPAN  January 12, 2014 12:00pm-1:01pm EST

12:00 pm
i tend to think that explanation is not sufficient. there are certainly people who would argue quite strongly that there's a one word answer to why we invaded iraq and a one word answer is oil. i don't think that's true.
12:01 pm
i do think it's true that were not for the fact that we have a culture and economy that demands immense quantities of cheap energy, combined with the fact that at least until quite recently the persian gulf region contained the largest oil reserves, we never would've cared much about what goes on in that part of the world. that said, i would argue that the ambitions and the rationale within the bush administration for why they reached the conclusion that invading iraq was necessary go far beyond simply wanting to get the oil. and in some sense, in some senses it all the did was to want to get the oil, it might make them seem somewhat more reasonable. but what they really saw was to
12:02 pm
undertake a project of transforming the islamic world that was going to put the united states in a position to semi-direct the course of events in this massive swath of territory. they had so much confidence in their own military power that they seriously believed they could rearrange the lives of about 1.4 billion people to suit us and our way of life. my favorite quote of the entire post-9/11 period, i'll only get it partially correct, mostly correct, you can look it up, look up don rumsfeld's press conference on september 18, 2001. it was a week after 9/11, okay? september 18. and he said, we had a choice.
12:03 pm
either we could change the way we live, which is unacceptable, or we could change the way they live. and we chose the latter. now, that's what the iraq war and the larger so-called global war on terrorism was all about in the eyes of the architects of the war. we are going to change the way they live so we don't have to change the way we live. so the stakes certainly included who owns the oil, who gets to use it, but i think went far beyond that. >> this is not to your question, just to add another dimension to what andrew has just said. in the course of my talking to veterans of this war, i talked to a great many who is really grating into civilian life has presented as is called and the military challenges, because as
12:04 pm
one of them put it to me, whom i quote in the book, which he was representative of many, we know too much. we've been to where these wars are. we've been to other countries. we've seen how other people live, and we've seen the prize that of the people in the world pay for the american way of life. we know things that americans need to know, but they don't want us to tell them. they don't want us to speak. and she talked about, if you go with a minor complaint to the va, they drug you. she said, we are their worst nightmare, those crazy veterans from vietnam come back again.
12:05 pm
[inaudible] >> she's also ripping upset at your comments about history teacher. so i disagree with you about something that we may have learned from world war ii, and that was the way the nazis accused their language for their political and warlike and. it occurs to me further that at a point in time -- i don't know when -- after world war ii, the been war department suddenly became the defense department, a complete reversal of roles, and a lie. would you endorse, colonel, a movement to restore the language of war department versus defense
12:06 pm
department? [laughter] >> yes. [laughter] >> i'm not a colonel but i would like to second that. >> right on. >> thank you. >> i heard a story of an army brigade in the early occupation of iraq that, instead of fighting the insurgents, directly like raiding houses in the middle of the night, they worked to improve the community, opening markets, making the streets clean, that sort of thing, just making life livable and letting the people be happy. and i believe this may have been a unit led by the disgraced david petraeus. eventually that unit was shipped out of the area, the neighborhood if they were patrolling and they were replaced by a more conventional
12:07 pm
approach, agent with the more conventional approach of kicking in doors in the middle of the night. and i think the base of war is that really, we don't consider that there are people both sides. would you agree with that? what do you think about society at war? >> well, let me focus on the first part of what you just said. i think it's true. petraeus commending the 101st airborne division in immediate occupation. i wasn't there. based on reporting it appears that relative to other commanders of his grade, he had -- took a more proactive approach to trying to rebuild, to prevent the complete disintegration of civil society. i'm not in a position to evaluate the effects. but what i would say is, i'm not
12:08 pm
sure how much effort along those lines would have been necessary to achieve the objective of preventing an insurgency and having a peaceful occupation, for this reason. the people of iraq didn't want us there. they didn't want to be occupied. they didn't want to be tutored in how to run their country or put it together again. and if, on the one hand, we could say i'm well, for traces approach seemed to be a bit more enlightened than those who were immediately going in to get down the doors approach. at the same time, there was an arrogance, a paternalism that was implicit in what he was saying. that you people need is here. we are here to help you.
12:09 pm
>> my question, you people, third person, or the second person plural. plural. >> and my point is i think it was doomed, it was a doom regardless of what tactical methods were applied. >> and i would just add to that that i was never on a base in afghanistan where the commanders that they were doing anything but god's work. everyone goes with good intention. that's the problem. [applause] >> we are now to passed the last question for. [laughter] >> this is the third passed the last, or whatever. but going back to the rumsfeld press conference and going back to the region have a different idea of what security is, you know, to me it's the policy that has changed and america has this
12:10 pm
policy of hegemony, the world's policeman. and so we have, you know, war is still the continuation of politics by other means. i don't think we are starting wars out of some kind of accident. we attack countries that get out of line, and those guys really think that the best way to keep the world at peace and prosperous is for america to make the peace. and so to get to each of them place we have to change that international security system, whether it starts with schools or whether it starts with united nations or some other way of people -- keeping people safe, that's what it's going to take. comment, please. >> thank you. who can argue with that? you all right. >> well, i mean, again, i'm going to repeat myself going back to the history question.
12:11 pm
why -- why do our leaders, or more broadly, and our elites, why are they committed to this project of hegemony, which, of course, is the term they would never use? because of the overarching importance attributed to the lessons of world war ii. that is to say, we must lead. there is no one else who can lead. if the united states fails to lead, then the consequences will be disastrous. we will have another world war ii. there will be another nazi germany. it will be another holocaust. there will be more people who will come instead of facing evil, will of peace and, therefore, invite a greater catastrophe. so these are the lessons of history that are constantly
12:12 pm
recited as if they are universally applicable truths. and they make it difficult, if not impossible, at least in the sphere of politics, to introduce other truths that are somewhat more complicated. and would suggest that our interest and arguably the world's interest might be served by us taking a more modest view of our role in international politics. it's hard to get a hearing from that alternative perspective. >> people really look with great anxiety on the united states. now, they think we have gone crazy, and people fear what's going to happen next. the close call with syria. where are we going to go next?
12:13 pm
and it seems that the american war machine doesn't even need the excuse of natural resources anymore. it just needs to keep the war going so that he can keep transferring that money to the people who are profiting off all of this. the greatest war profiteering in history, according to the studies coming out from bernie sanders and others -- well, there you go. [applause] >> thank you very much. enjoyed the visit. >> thank you. [applause] >> you got all the applause, i noticed that. >> in our books for sale in the back if you're interested. [inaudible conversations]
12:14 pm
>> visit to watch any of the programs you see your online. type the author or book title in the search bar on the upper left side of the page and click search. you can also get anything you see on easily by clicking share on the upper left side of the page and selecting the format. booktv streamed live online for $40 every weekend with top nonfiction books and authors. up next on booktv, "after words" with jonah goldberg of the "national review." this week yuval levin and his book an 11 in it, the founder and editor of national affairs discusses the origin of the political left-right divide, arguing that today's partisanship began with the debate over the french revolution. this program is about one hour.
12:15 pm
>> host: i, yuval. thanks for joining us. welcome to c-span. i'm going to be going you on your block, "the great debate," and i'll try to do my best, which things a lot of profanity and we will see where it goes. so let's just start right off the bat. who was edmund burke? >> guest: edinburg was an irish born english politician, statesman, critical thinker and writer in the late 18th century. he was born in 1729. he lived until 1797. his political career is really from the late 1760s until his death, and it was an unusual political career in that it was also very much an intellectual career. from the very beginning he was as much a think as a politician, and the thinking he did was about how to help his country through a period of intense
12:16 pm
change and tension and crisis from the american war through a regency crisis through the french revolution and the european war that followed. burke was a force for sustaining continuity through change. and so was an enemy of the radicalism of the french revolution but was a reformer a british institution, always endeavor to save them to fix them. he has come to be known as one of the fathers of modern conservatism for this effort to try to sustain continuity in times of change. >> host: russell kirk is famous for establishing him. was he known as the father of modern conservatism? >> guest: burke himself at the end of his life described as of belong to the party of conservation. the term conservative didn't exist exactly, but he understood himself to be engaged in the effort to save the british constitution, british system at a time when it was a genuine
12:17 pm
threatened by political radicalism. it makes sense to think of them as the father of modern conservatism but it can also be misleading. he was a reformer, reform of institution the practice as an opponent of slavery and always favored limits on the power of the king. and so he wasn't an ultraconservative. you wind up and of as a conservative in continental europe at the time. but a voice for anglo-american conservatism. he's been understood that way before. >> host: so he was thomas paine? >> guest: thomas paine was an english born immigrant to america. contemporary of burke's brother. he was eight years younger. history is quite different. he began life in a working-class family in england, through a series of terrible misadventures, found himself basically a bankrupt tax collector living in london trying to forget what to do with his life but one with extorted self-education in philosophy and
12:18 pm
political science. and he encountered benjamin franklin, the representative of the american colonies in britain, and franklin got to know him a little, very little, and suggested to him that he should try going to america and starting over. and he did that and they quickly became an important figure in the intellectual circles of philadelphia. he was the editor of a small magazine called the pennsylvania magazine, a writer, and as the american revolution began to brew, he became a very important retort station and the struggle of independence. he wrote commonsense, that persuaded so many people to back the cause of independence. he wrote the crisis papers in played a part. i think it's fair to call him a member of the founding generation. 10 years later, less known to us americans, paine went to france and became an important spokesman for the french revolutionaries. really did a great champ into the english-speaking world.
12:19 pm
he made the case for the radicalism of the revolution in france the british and american audiences. he was a real revolution. he was a believer in the need to break with the past in order to undo the terrible injustices that the european regimes in his view were committing on their people. and he wanted always to find ways to apply the right political principles to society, to arrive at a greater equality, rated individual liberty. and so we think of him as one of our founders but he was more radical than the american revolution was. in some ways was much more at home with the federal osha. is thought of as one of the fathers of modern radicalism. >> host: which brings us to the title of your book, "the great debate." can you explain what that title comes from and what was the essence of the debate? >> guest: burke and paine were engaged in a political debate. both of them more or less were
12:20 pm
backers of american independence. paine much for especially so in burke but burke supported the americans. we came to the french revolution they were on starkly opposite sides. they had a real debate. they knew each other. they me met a few times but exchange a fair number of letters and they answered one another's published writings. some of the most important writings were in response to one another. what the book argues is the debate predates that explicit debate, and that for a long time for the entirety of their public careers the two o of them are laying out two views of the liberal society, what a free society could be like. the two are very much in tension with one another. they present different ideas. so it's a real argument about political philosophy that the book tries to draw out by putting their two world views against one another and not just by leading the actual expose the debate about the revolution are what you come away with our two
12:21 pm
clear and consistent views of what we ought to be as free people in a free society. what english and american political life should be. and what a argues these are views that are identifiably conservative on one hand and radical or progressive on the other. so they can help us see to the bottom of some of the left-right debate that continues. the ideas not exactly that the relationship to today's left and right is somehow genealogical. it's not that today's conservatism has descended from burke pics pensively but these two can abuse emerge almost inevitably in our kind of society and that burke and paine express them more clearly and explicitly. >> host: for context, have there been other, can you think of other great thinkers on either side of the pressing issue of the day who had this kind of open air argument? i mean, one of the problems you get with intellectual history is you think guys, i would love to
12:22 pm
know what john dewey would say the hike, or what would, you know. this is one of the rare cases where you actually have that. can you think of any other sprinter it's a rare thing. there are a few others on a smaller scale also a reference solution. the french revolution raised profound questions at a time when there were people both in britain and america who were involved in politics to receive political thinkers, which is very unusual. and so you find some dispute between jefferson and adams that come to seem all of it like this debate. there's a very broad public dispute in both britain and america about the french revolution in general i think burke and paine, because they engaged each other so direct and because they degrade -- disagreed so profound and i think because burke more than anyone who agreed with them expressed the conservative vision of a liberal society explicitly and fully, the aren't a lot of other voices like yours. so i think usually what makes
12:23 pm
this debate why do this. but paine to concisely and answered them specifically and felt that he owed it to his readers and friends to address burkes arguments. so you really have a debate, a full on debate. >> host: we should probably get some terminology stuff out of the way. the french revolution is widely seen as, actually the terms left and right come out of the french assembly. and it had to do with the seeding chart. >> guest: basically the people who supported the declaration on the rights of man which was really a radical statement of principles and the french revolution, more or less sat to the left of the speaker in the original estimate. the people on the ride were still revolutionaries but they were a little bit less radical. and so in the press at the time both in britain and in france they came to be referred to as left and right. and so radicals on the left, more conservatives on the right. >> host: i've always wrestled
12:24 pm
with this little bit because this is a european import and that in the british parliament, the seating chart went basically with the days and days essentially and moved around depending on who was in power. so we never had the same -- >> guest: the government sits to the right of the speaker in the comments, still does. the opposition party on the left. it's a problem in more ways than that because and that the left and right of the french revolution has very little to do with her left and right. one of them was more radical than the other but the idea that left and right come from the french revolution is more wrong than it is right. the actual party to the french revolution, the aristocrats, they don't have anything to do with the politics. where are you really find left and right is would recognize emerging is in the politics in britain and america run same time. it's right is a left and right emerged around the french
12:25 pm
revolution but they emerged in a debate about the french revolution, a debate was basically held in english. >> host: so when you say a brilliant audience, obviously, but when you say liberal society, we are not necessary talking about liberal the way we talk about it today, a free society, class of liberalism? >> guest: a society like the one you would've found in britain in the 18th century through today like the one you would've found in america in the 18th century, a society where there's basic respect for the rights of the individual, a sense of the government exists at least at some level to defend and vindicate those right. there are limits on the government but there is a strong government. and there's emphasis placed on private property. this is what would basically mean by classical liberalism our anglo-american liberalism. so you described a society that way means tha the kind of sociee would recognize as our own. one of the important things
12:26 pm
about the debate is both sides except the liberal society. it's not as radical a debate as some of what you've seen in european politics. in fact, what you still see in european politics. it's not a debate between far left and far right. it's a debate within the liberal society and about the liberal society. that doesn't make it less divisive, less intense. in some ways it makes it more so but it makes it more recognizable to us because it's a debate about who we are. >> host: and so friedrich hayek famously wrote his essay why i'm not a conservative, and everyone points to this that he was talking about the european style conservatives. he defined himself as an old whig. >> guest: other people are were using it on the same time but basically as a whig who follows the ideas of good weeks in the english revolution, 1688, so
12:27 pm
real believer in freedom, and liberty but in order liberty. liberty as an inheritance. the essay is now found at the end of the hayek spoke, the constitution of liberty, which is a very murky and book and describes itself that way. it opens with a description of how hayek is a breaking. so innocent see the conservative. that's not the entirety of what conservatism means, but i think his argument for why he is not a conservative is an argument for why he's not a conservative in germany or france less than in britain or in america. >> host: the famous essay conservatism as an ideology. conservatism and radicalism, conservatism is the one ideology that is always placed consistent dependent. a conservative in portugal can mean something for different than a conservative in the united states where we're basically trying to conserve a liberal revolution. so let's start in -- you divide
12:28 pm
these chapters up into these different aspects of sort of the stanchions of the debate, the legs of the store or whatever appropriate metaphor we can come up with. why don't we start very much at the beginning and talk about the different views of nature and history? >> guest: so the book is structured in the way that tries to take the debate was about specific concrete political events, and pull it apart into themes that can then be understood in themselves so that you see what the disagreement is in which a link in the process you can reapply to political events. it's basically the method of political philosophy. and it begins where they began, and important since. it begins with a question of the relationship of nature to politics. burke and paine would both claim that their political views are based in an idea that politics have to answer to nature, human nature, but have very different ideas of what that was. their different ideas of what
12:29 pm
nature means in political debate, have a lot to do with the views that follow. so paine offers an idea of nature that's very much in an enlightenment science idea. he understands nature as a source of rules, and rules that govern the behavior of individual particles, if you will, and in turn that pulls society itself, basically a function of the particles. he understood that politics was in physics, but the basic rethinking of how do we get at the truth of what is the deepest kind of truth. he thought the way to get at it was to get to beginning, to the origin of things and not the historical origins of the natural origins. the prehistoric origins. for him that meant of all understanding the human being in his pre-social state. because society is just a function of human beings, of many human beings together, so
12:30 pm
to understand the site you first have to understand the individual human being. in this he follows what is a fairly familiar to student of american political thought and british political thought, a model of the state of nature way of understanding society. so let's imagine society begins with independent individuals coming together and deciding we would be a lot better off if we lived together, if there was a mutual enforcer of laws, protect your property and safety. that's a society is formed to it has to be understood at as answering to that purpose to any society that doesn't answer to that purpose violates our rights, and doesn't protect our property, doesn't protect is probably from another is an illegitimate government and never right to overthrow it. this is basically his vision. it's edible vision, and from there he begins his political thinking. so that means his political thinking is very individualist. is very rights-based and is
12:31 pm
devoted to the idea of individual liberty as the defining principle of political life. edmund burke starts by looking at that and saying well, the problem is no one has ever lived that way. the state of nature is a thought experiment, as anyone would acknowledge. but it's a very plausible thought expended. no human being has ever lived outside of family or even outside of society. so to understand society based on what it would mean to live in a situation that no human being has ever lived in may not be the most useful way to think about how we ought to live. and what struck you most was the radical individualism. burkes approach to political thought but also to nature itself begins in holes, not in parts. you might say his science, is nature's more -- he's as human beings have always lived in society and we need to understand the human being and the path that allow us to be
12:32 pm
happy, the institutions that allow us to thrive within society. so he always reasons about man in society and in turn tries to understand what liberty means, what equality means, what society means based on how people that live in the real world. on what has enabled people to live in just and happy ways? to him, society has to answer to human nature, and human nature is not the same thing as a kind of physics of political science. the human being is not just and rational animal and we don't just answer to rules. the human being is also a sentimental creature and is also an animal with animal needs and desires. politics is to recognize all of that because to ignore those things is to set yourself up for failure. is to create a system that would only work with something other than human beings living in it. so his recourse to nature, what he finds useful in a model of nature is a model of continuity,
12:33 pm
a model of generation of inheritance, of how, over time, species improve, societies improve. and it happens gradually. he is writing, of course while before darwin and before evolution but what he offers is an evolutionary model of gradual change, building on what we have starting with the real world, trial and error. so from these two very different models of nature you already begin to see some very basic differences about how we understand society. >> host: i want to come back to some of that because people should know as a matter of full disclosure i reviewed this book for commentary, totally trashed it. no. i should give arabi but i have some disagreement or quibbles about it. and i want to come back to them but i just want to flush out just a little bit more. i think the modern year, the thing that would shock people the most in burke's thought is
12:34 pm
his deep skepticism about the power and the limits of reason. and paine believe that you can just simply reason your way through any problem, and burke almost laughs at that notion. >> guest: yet. so paine, because he believes that what nature gives us is basically principles, he thinks will political life is abate slickly the application of principles. human reason, understood again in an enlightenment way, that is, as an individual faculty of logical analysis showed i was to find answers to social questions by applying our understanding of the rules for understanding of the circumstances. it's basically a kind of science of society. he has a very high opinion of reason. he's very impressed with what science is achieving in this day. he's living only a century afternoon. it's an incredible time for modern science.
12:35 pm
and he believes that if you apply that kind of thinking to political life you could solve social problems, really solve them. solve poverty, solve war. is a kind of utopian. he doesn't think it will happen in a permanent way, any truly utopian way but he thinks we can solve a lot of our social problems if we just apply our reason to the right principles and to our circumstances. that means that paine approaches the world, and unnecessarily imperfect will by being absolute outraged at failure, at the fact that things are not going well. he can only understand injustice and failure in society as a function of people choosing to do the wrong thing. and especially of the powerful choosing to oppress the weak. that's basically how he understands why there is war, why this poverty, why there's injustice and why people are not free. burke says human life is much more complicated than that. and reason is an important part of what the human person is but
12:36 pm
it's not even the four most part let alone the only part. he thinks that life in society, because it's a lot of human beings living together, has a lot to do with human sentiments with relational and social questions, with pride, with all kinds of things that aren't being reasoned, that we're not going to get rid of. and that some of the problems we have our permanent problems because they are functions of human nature. human nature is not a simple matter of applying principles the circumstances. so his view is that the enlightenment idea of reason can't be directly applied to society. he thinks one of the biggest mistakes that the radicals of the french revolution and of english politics make is that they believe if only to find the right rules, they could just for toward everything over from scratch and build it right. burkett says we'll never know enough to build a whole society quickly. what we can do is see what works in a society we have and try to make the rest more like the. so essentially the process of social progress is the process
12:37 pm
of making society more like its best sell. that's a gradual process, a grateful process that tries to be impressed by what's working in society rather than what is s and. any kind of conservative process that tries to save the best so it can serve as a model for the best -- the rest of. >> host: one of the things i didn't remember or didn't know, and i have not been reading my burke of late intel i delved into this, and so the phrase little platoon which is bandied around a lot, particularly and conservative circles as shorthand for the institutions of society, and mediating structures that come between the individual and the state. robert putnam at harvard has done a lot of stuff on this. bowling leagues, churches, schools, all of these things are the little platoon split you point out that for burke, when he actually coined the phrase can he's talking about social class. >> guest: that's right. in a way it's an intolerable
12:38 pm
mistake because burke is devoted to civil society, to all those institutions that use a standard when the individual industry. i think they are essential and a big part of this debate was about those. paine made an argument that institutions between individual and state are basically illegitimate power sources, power centers in society. nobody chose to give them authority and to exercise enormous authority. a wilderness of turnpike. burke does defend those but the term little platoons comes in a passage in reflections of the revolution were burke is criticizing the wealthy friends who turned against the wealthy. sort of joined up with the radicals and decided to dismantle their society host to the george soros other day just a great project to begin by think about what egypt offer your society from where you sit. so you have to first understand what the part of society that you were part of has to offer that's good rather than turn it
12:39 pm
-- turn against society as well. he makes the case for economic classroom. and does argue that the little platoon that we are a part of is as much a part of the economy that we're part of as a part of society that we're part of. a lot of people use that phrase to mean something very different. >> host: it's funny come in that discussion and will get back to this in the second, but one of the things that really came to my mind is -- i would love to read the british left take on this show because you have butlers and maids and house servants who are as fierce defenders of their station and of their class, and of not wanting to see the lower, classes lower than them treated as equals to them, and the idea of servants sitting with the
12:40 pm
upper crust horrifies the servant class as much as it horrified even more so the aristocrats. it got me thinking, this is something i would come back to you as well, so much of what burke is writing about these things only makes sense to a certain extent in the context of british culture. i think british exceptionalism that he's talking about, and it's one o of the reasons why don't they get translates as will into american society as you discuss, but can you sort of talk about the role that, you know, could his arguments have worked in your the way they did in britain because in britain, there's something of a british culture where people actually use their station in a way that maybe lack of feudalism or whatnot that maybe wouldn't have, those arguments don't play nearly as well. >> guest: i think that's true in part and it's true in
12:41 pm
relation to his descriptions of social class and of people's relation to their station. in a way, britain and his time was much more free and equal than continental europe, and much less so than america. as he acknowledged in both cases. burke was an early opponent of slavery. it was easier to be one in britain than in america because basically already had stopped. but he was. he was one of the first signatories of the wilberforce petition, and so on. burke recognizes the different societies exist in different circumstances. certainly part of his argument is about the particular genius of what he called the english constitution, which is not a written constitution by the whole system that include an important class of employment that he thought had its merits.
12:42 pm
he was not a defender of the status quo per se. he was not an opponent of all change to the -- he had done it himself. he came from what we would think of as a middle-class family and not just a middle-class come by at an irish middle-class family. and natively to the upper tiers of the british political system. and wanted the way to be open to other people to do the same. but he did live there was a kind of stabilizing influence of the aristocracy that made the british open to his way of thinking about free society in ways that were essential. he thought the french could have saved the system by looking to their own history, by the best of their own tradition rather than assume there was only bad any. he understood the americans were quite a different species of englishmen. that while they had the same rights of englishmen and that, in fact, that was part of what you're fighting for in the american war, that in america's,
12:43 pm
inequality reach far more deeply. the class system didn't exist in assembly. but i think what burke offers easy disposition and an idea of what a free society is that translates pretty well to america much less so to continental europe. the european path to democracy is very different, and the european idea of democracy, social democracy is quite different. i don't think that work is all that applicable to continental europe. there are people who tried to apply them in ways that i think were very perverse and that led to a certain kind of historicism. teeple like hegel thought they were following part in some respects. aqueduct also in any respects. but i think it translates to america -- >> host: they told me they would be no hegel. >> guest: i think he translates to america much more easily because in a funny way one of the things that we americans of the left and the right take for granted, some without thinking about it too much, is that the american
12:44 pm
revolution was the beginning of something brand-new. the american revolution was the extension of a certain kind of anglo-american english way of life and thinking. it's quite different. it developed differently for a very long time in american life. burke in his speeches on america notes a couple of differences. the americans are much more alert to threats of their liberty, much more suspicious of government than the british we were. but the basic idea of the relation to the individual, to the community, to its rights is an english idea. the disposition toward society that burke articulates is useful to america. it's not simply translatable i think it plays a part in what we think of as conservatism. >> host: so one last bit of come from the actual book. as i understand it, and correct me if i'm wrong, your dissertation was slightly different title and it was on --
12:45 pm
based on your dissertation, right? i'm not trying to imply that you somehow are recycling. this is your fifth book? >> guest: fourth. >> host: slacker. the title of the dissertation was passionate what was the title transfer it was called the great law of change, edinburgh, thomas paine and -- edinburg. >> host: the past limbs for a large. you touch on them a little bit, destiny of nature and whatnot. can you talk about that tragic death with a book and. the burke goes through a series of thematic interpretations of their differences and ends on the question of the meaning of the past because a lot of the differences, a lot of disagreements about other subjects i'm not to disagreement about what the past should mean to the press and. at end of the day, burke believes that human beings exist in a context, that we're all
12:46 pm
born into world that existed before us and that this is an inescapable fact. we don't have a choice about it and so to understand society as fundamental choice is the kind of mistake. society answers to unchosen obligations and should be set up a way that allows us to meet unchosen obligations. to the family, the king and become a nation, the people around us. he that we could not escape the past and we should want to because the past is the only reason why we don't live in savagery. the inheritance we get, the cultural and social and intellectual inheritance is the reason why we can make progress. so burke is a certain kind of conservative. he's a traditionalist but a forward-looking traditionalist. he believes the present is better than the past, not worse. a lot of traditionalists think the past with some perfect state and one way or another, or in the past we had access to some perfect truth and we don't anymore. we can only reach it by living with our fathers did. burke thinks things have improved over time and that the future can be better still but
12:47 pm
only if we sustain the means by which the president has become better than the past. traditionalism is a way forward. paine again because he believes fundamentally in the human being as a rational chooser, and because he believes we should understand society as a choice and as existing to protect our freedom of choice, he leaves that the weight of the past on a should be as light as possible, but every generation should be as free as it can be and as free as the first generation was to determine its own destiny, to set its own goals, to make its own laws, to create its own civilization. and that difference between them and turns out to be an enormously important difference. it's crucial to burke's criticism of a certain kind of liberal radicalism, and it's crucial to burke's description of his own liberalism, his conservatism liberalism which is a gradual building on the past.
12:48 pm
and it's essential to paine's radicalism. he wants to enable people to be free of unchosen obligation. so especially to be free of the obligations that present themselves at the juncture of generation. he wants us to live as though it were not the case, that we were born into a world that existed before us. so the place of the past, the meaning of the past is essential to the difference. i think it's crucial to the difference between right and left steel. you see it especially and a lot of what we think of as social issues. a lot of them really amount to whether the obligations we have and that are choosing them are, in fact, obligations or whether we should work to make its we can choose them. so that everything is optional and we don't owe anybody anything that we don't want to. conservatives and social debates often just say, this is the world we are given. this is the human being as a human being is and we have to live with that. rather than find ways to
12:49 pm
initiate some radical break with them. >> host: just out of curiosity, what did paine think of the family? >> guest: paine is a little boy about it. he didn't believe in inherited anything. he was opposed to inherited privileges, inherent power, to inherit property. paine at the end of his career rights and essay that lays out a sort of basic outline of the welfare state. he shows us in without radical l individual leads to statism. it's a very important thing to see the entire thing is funded by inheritance tax because he says nothing of use happens in that juncture, and that intersection between generation. he basically of somebody getting something that isn't early. so that's the place where society can legitimately tax people. he doesn't make a radical
12:50 pm
argument like marx does or likelihood of actually that the family should be broken. parents and she'll should be separate because that's the only way to enact a really radical social change. a lot of what he says to just as much or suggest the links between generations should be loosened if not broken. he doesn't quite as for some people but, you know, the smartest radicals in revolutions have always understood that family is the foremost obstacles to their goals. >> host: from plato's republic on. >> guest: and less pernicious ways, the first thing they did was raise children, taken out of the house. because it's simply true that the relationship between parents and children is the foundation of social order, and to change the social order fundamentally you have to break that relationship of. >> host: hillary clinton once said, i'm getting partisan, hillary clinton once said we need to move beyond the idea
12:51 pm
that there is -- we need to move to the idea, move away from private ownership of children, the collective ownership. the reason i brought it up is, it's clear that burke understands that the family unit is essential, particularly 19 century. family unit is a dictatorship. babies are not born with a lot of rights in the context of their own family. i was wondering, does paine consider that to be unjust when a father or mother tells her children to go to bed, what to wear, what to eat? >> guest: john locke offers an answer to this question, which is to say liberalism is suspended in a family until the age of maturity. the reason is liberalism or liberty requires reason to reason more or less, human beings are born with an undeveloped rational faculty and
12:52 pm
they reached the maturity. that's what maturity means. >> host: as parents we can agree with that. >> guest: servitude. i'm not sure you reach ever but you don't have it when you are four years old. and so effectively parents have this right to treat their children as almost the property up to a point, while the children are young. paine echoes of that here and there, but burke makes an explicit argument about this and it's in direct response to paine so paine in the rights of men, the book he wrote about the french revolution, makes the argument that effectively that one generation shouldn't be able to find another the it's actually a criticism of burke were burke says the parliament of 1688 bound as to the monarchy forever. paine says no parliament can bind futures do anything of the. there shouldn't be anything that we do because of past generations sets out. >> host: what did you think of
12:53 pm
u.s. constitution than. >> guest: a good question about that than. paine is very critical of a lot of what's in the u.s. constitution. without ever explicitly criticizing the constitution did not only of the wind which it binds the future, use critical of checks and policy. use critical of a bicameral legislature. he thinks democracy should be a direct, as simple as possible your kid is that it's necessary to divide power and channel it in all these ways. he thinks these are ways of keeping people from the rights. he never says he would've opposed the constitution. he was in france when he was being debated and sympathy for critical of the constitution. we know very little of what burke thought of the constitution but it was a little bit more in line with his way thinking about government. is one of the great frustrations of burke's scholarship. there's a letter in which a friend of his sentiment copy of the federalist and said, this
12:54 pm
friend, letters to this friend in ireland with a source of some the best things in burke's correspondence because he was in ireland. he a very interesting arguments but the one time he came to britain, he came to london, he since this book ahead and says let's talk about it when i see. now we don't know what burke thought about federalism otherwise we probably would have. by that we think about government is more amenable. >> host: this is one of these areas, moving it up to contemporary issues, this is one of these areas where you can see the left-right divide. generally speaking, the left feels constrained by the u.s. constitution. wants a living constitution, then, john podesta back in the white house now said a couple years ago that because of
12:55 pm
republican obstruction in the congress said that the u.s. political system sucks. and that frustration, checks and balances and all that is very much -- the party of government doesn't like it because it curtails government. but there are other areas where, you know, i'll ask essential to the author here, why is there so little discussion how this stuff actually plays out in contemporary life? you set up this argument, precursors to left versus right, and then by the end you are fairly uninterested and really going very far in trying to score these things in the contemporary political debate. >> guest: it's a book about her campaign. i certainly start about whether it should end with the kind of,
12:56 pm
what would burke do, what would paine dude chapter. in the end i decided that would take away from the discussion itself because if you let burke and paine speak for themselvethemselve s, and they're not shy and quite clear about what they think, i think it helps both liberals and conservatives understand their own views better, understand the views of the of the better, understand where they differ from people who i describe is maybe the origins of the own way thinking and what they don't. i think it's more useful as a presentation of what seems to have been one of the first instances of the left-right divide in a recognizable way back in attempt to try to show how the line goes from here to there. because of course the line doesn't go in a straight way. a lot has changed about the left and the right. a lot has changed about our circumstances. i would say especially a long century and more long debate about economics that they were not part of. between socialism and capitalism, they are sent are not part burke and paine debate.
12:57 pm
i think that has changed things some, but that what burke and paine to a show you where the basic disposition, the basic difference of approaches, the basic differences a definition between left and right. there are different understanding of what the liberal society is, come from and what they look like in their original form. what you point to helps to get to that, too. one of the reasons why paine and the left under the constitution becomes very clear reading pane more so than in reading today's progressive i think has very little sense of the own intellectual history and where the ideas come from. paine's metaphors about society are all motion metaphor for they are all about moving. progress and motion. berg's metaphors are all statesmen. they're all about creating a space in which society can thrive. that's what government does. that's what the purpose of politics is, and without
12:58 pm
defining what happens in the space, he believes that by sustained aspasia allow for progress because progress is not only made possible by what happens in the space but is defined of what happens in that space. the space is maintained by key principles, by sticking to some key propositions. but within the space politics is not about principles. politics is about prudence, about what we want them how to get it, what we can achieve. and so everyday politics is not a constant appeal to an egalitarian ideal or any other ideal within and towards changing everything about how we live so we could live in a very different way. it's about improving what we have to solve problems that arise. and so for that kind of approach to government, something like u.s. constitution is a tremendously powerful and effective and appealing instrument because it defines the space, it allows you to sustained the space and it allows for a great deal of
12:59 pm
disagreement and difference of change within the space. that it what you want is motion, if you want to complicate going forward, then the restraints on government and the constitution are just a bridal but they feel like they're always holding you back. things move much too slowly and you can't transform the whole thing at once and you never get the kind of majority need to do what you want. for burke this would've been a future. ever paine this is the biggest problem with this kind of system. >> host: i know i said there would be no hegel but you are right, one of the reasons why i would argue that the left has changed is this importation of the hegelian dialectic, which we get -- not to beat a dead horse, but a lot from woodrow wilson, the first president who says that the president needs a vision o of where the country needs to go. prior to wilson, the president wasn't just a night watchman but he had this defined set of obligations to protect the country to do this or do that, but not guide the entire body
1:00 pm
politic in a specific direction. >> guest: birch would say the country needs a leader of where it is going. >> host: one of the things, when you read, when i read brooks stuff about reason, which i really enjoyed and i think there are points very well made by you and by burt, i know you like being put in the same sense as burke, but there is a lot -- i think i put it in the review, you know, these guys are sort of -- i understand this gets the biology wrong but they our founding fathers, right? so this left-right debate, but it had been so many generations that the genetic material has gone all over the place. ..


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on